Lamar Giles
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Learning to love red ink

Last time I said I’d discuss training your brain to write original stuff (in other words, the opposite of what most aspiring writers are doing based on what I’ve seen the agents complaining about). I’m sorry to disappoint, but another more timely subject came up. My agent sent me the editorial letter for my YA Mystery WHISPERTOWN today, and I thought it would be a good topic to get into.

Direct your attention to the cartoon on the left. It’s kind of funny, but not the red ink I’m talking about (though mine can be just as difficult to handle). I’m talking about editorial changes, something you’re going to have to deal with when your writing career takes off.

If you’re really trying to break into this business, I’m sure you’ve got critique partners and beta-readers (if you don’t, you better get some) to help you iron out rough spots in your manuscript. These folks are invaluable, and they can really get your work past the initial suckage. However, you have to understand that even the most conscientious beta-reader, while enthusiastic and often willing to go the extra mile, probably lacks two things: 1) A vested interest in your work beyond friendship or reciprocation 2) True editorial experience.

Bottom line: serviceable editors are all around, but GREAT editors are hard to come by.

What’s that mean? Maybe nothing. But let’s say you’ve gone through your beta readers a couple of times, they’ve given the stamp of approval, then you’re fortunate enough to get an agent. That stamp just got revoked. All those re-writes are out the window because now your agent wants to fine tune.

This is the point where you might be tempted to get a little huffy. “The book was good enough for my agent to sign me, how could it possibly need more work? I’ve reached the pentacle.”

No, you haven’t. You’ve got potential, your agent saw it, and now she wants to make sure you’re not wasting her time by sending her out into the world with a mediocre manuscript. This is why the agent you choose is very important.The editorial pill will be much easier to swallow if you’re confident that your agent knows what she’s talking about.

My agent has great editorial experience, and backs up every change she requests with sound rationale. For the record, I didn’t feel the slightest bit of huff when I read her letter. I only disagreed on a couple of points, and once I explained my position, she backed me. We work well together.

If you’ve chosen your agent wisely, then you should look forward to those requested changes, because they mean your agent can go into the world with confidence in your project. A confident agent will work hard for you, because success benefits you both.

But, what if you don’t look forward to the letter? What if you hate the letter?

Then you better get over it. Because if you agent sells your project, most likely you’re going to get another letter from your new editor. More changes. And what are you going to do then? Throw a fit at the person who’s cutting you a check and fulfilling your lifelong dream at the same time?

It’s not your book anymore. Sure, your name’s on the cover, but you have investors to please. Beyond the investors, you have readers to entrall. If you’re lucky, you’re birthing your new career, a career that will bleed red ink often.

Learn to love it. Because as long as those agents and editors are staining your manuscript, you’re still in the business. When no one’s telling you what to change, it means they’re not reading anymore.

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